SpaceX has plenty to gloat about this week.
As of Monday night, it can say its Falcon 9 rocket was the first to launch into orbit, deploy satellites and land vertically at Cape Canaveral with its 15-story booster still intact.
And the company's founder, Elon Musk, can parade his success to his rival, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who attained a similar milestone in November. Bezos' Blue Origin rocket made the world's first successful vertical landing after reaching an altitude of nearly 330,000 feet.
Monday's touchdown was a secondary objective for SpaceX. The main one was hoisting the satellites for OrbComm, a New Jersey-based communication company. All 11 were successfully deployed.
Marc Eisenberg, chief executive officer at OrbComm, seemed just as excited about the booster landing as he was about his satellites reaching orbit.
Musk and Bezos are still bickering on Twitter, with Musk claiming his achievement is more substantial because his ship broke orbit. But both have had a hand in advancing spaceflight to the point where private commercial flights to space are within reach.
In the past, sending a rocket into space was like throwing away a 747 jet after one flight, Musk told The New York Times. Trading weight for added speed, the rocket and its multimillion-dollar engines were designed to slide off and crash into the ocean, never to be seen again.
Now, after two successful landings between SpaceX and Blue Origin, we're on our way to drastically reduced launch costs, Musk told reporters during a conference call on Monday.
"It's a revolutionary moment," Musk said. "No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact."
For years, he's aspired to send manned, private flights into space, a dream that appeared to be on hold after critics -- including Neil Armstrong -- raised doubts about SpaceX's lack of experience and safety standards back in 2012. Musk faced criticism again this year after three failed launches left questions about SpaceX's future.
Monday's landing turned that failure into success, though Musk admitted during the conference call that it'll take several years to attain full reusability of rockets and, in turn, affordable flights. Still, there's renewed hope for private space excursions and Musk's ultimate goal: a human mission to Mars.
"This was a critical step along the way to being able to establish a city on Mars," he said. "That's what all this is about."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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